According to Marty Nadler’s grandmother, when asked why she went to Florida in the winter: “Old and cold don’t mix.”
I had no idea how right his bubbelah was until I hit the big Five-O. I started taking sweaters into the movie theaters, asking the hostess in restaurants to seat me away from the air conditioner, wearing socks in bed at night.
I am, after all, a third-generation Yankee woman. The women in my family are not intimidated by the elements. New England winters give you character. We sleep in tweed nightgowns. It may not be very sexy, but when that first cold snap hits, it gives you the stamina you need to get out of bed and pee several times a night. When I don’t sleep in tweed, I think, “Just how badly do I really have to pee?” until it’s almost too late. Without it, I get so lazy that I would rather scrunch down to the bottom of the covers shivering than get up and cross the cold wooden floor to get a blanket.
The ideal winter bedtime garb is a formula. First you grease yourself with a thick layer of Vaseline, not coconut oil, not baby oil, Vaseline, petroleum jelly. Then you put on silk long johns — if you cannot find long johns, put together a long-sleeved silk top, with silk leggings. The key word here is silk. Then, cashmere anything. Long-sleeved turtleneck cashmere top with cashmere leggings is best. Please note that each layer is very thin; then, slender sweatpants and a long-sleeved sweatshirt, all under the alluring tweed nightgown. A sleep cap, gloves, and comfortable socks top off the outfit. It is that formula for sleeping that has made it so that I have not had to move to Florida … yet!
Cold is only one of the issues with growing old that is tiresome. Standing up and sitting down is another.
After your brain gives the command to stand, you must think about it for a while; the body doesn’t just pop up onto your feet like it used to. You have to shift the body so that the weight is evenly distributed, and then hoist yourself up so that people don’t notice that you are holding on to the table; not passing gas as you do this is a challenge, but it can be done if you concentrate. Then you must wait until the blood circulates down to your feet before you can take the first step.
Getting easily insulted is something else one must watch out for. I try very hard not to slap people in the face when they call me “young lady.” It’s not easy. Don’t they realize how insulting this is? They mean well, they think they are being jocular … what choice does one have other than to give them that sweet, unspecial smile you give a sweet, unspecial child?
It’s hard to be old. It’s not as if it is something we can practice; most of us have never been old before. Naturally one gets grouchy. I also get a tad testy when I am asked if I know how to text. I’ve been texting and sexting for the past 30 years. That’s right, I said “sexting.” What makes people think that just because you’re older, you have lost your sex drive? Read the biology books: Women get more sensual as they get older. It is the men who deflate. So when people get sarcastic and say, “Hey, you’re all dolled up, got a hot date tonight?” it takes every bit of grace I have not to kick them where they need to be kicked.
True, it is hard to be picky in the dating game when you are wearing Depends and you have to remove your dentures before you can French-kiss. That doesn’t mean that the feelings, the urges, the needs are not real and still there.
You may have to lower your standards when it comes to your selection process. This is no time to be fussy about gender, or species for that matter.
You may have to date people you might not have found attractive when you were younger. You gotta take what you can get today, and then try to change his ways tomorrow. At the same time, one must be careful. If he is older than you, you must think … does he see me as a “nurse or a purse”?
Loss of memory is annoying. When they tell you the same story for the fourth time in the same evening, you may think you are in trouble. You can’t be rude and say that you have heard it before. Give them your girlish laughter, don’t let them see ennui until the morning after, which will be OK because you will already have forgotten their name by then.
The irony of getting internally hotter and externally colder as you get older is nature’s cruel way of building tourism for Florida.
Abigail McGrath is the founder of Renaissance House, a retreat for writers of poetry and social issues. She created Renaissance House in memory of her mother, the poet Helene Johnson, and her aunt, Dorothy West, the novelist, both “Island girls.”